My pen is my wonderland. Word water in my hand. In my pen is wonder ink. Stories sing. Stories sink.
My stories loop. My Stories stop. My pen is my wonder mop. Drink letters. Drink my ink.
My pen is blind. My stories blink.
by Joe Public, South African-based ad agency – source
What the poem means to me as I read it in English
To me, My Stories Begin as Letters is a writer’s confession. Whatever he writes is nascent as an inner thought, as an intimate letter to oneself.
There are so many ideas swimming through a writer’s mind, yet not all of them will come to life in ink on paper and even fewer will reach a conclusion.
But when this happens a part of the writer’s life, of his energy, of his pen, will remain trapped inside that story forever. A bitter-sweet conclusion.
What the poem means when read in Afrikaans
Most of the poem has a similar meaning to what one would get when reading it in English, perhaps with these two minute exceptions:
The pen’s ink is fluid and so are the words it puts on paper, like a fluid that runs through the writer’s hand.
The pen and its ink can, in the hands of a writer, create a wonderful story.
Lost in translation or not?
Between the English and Afrikaans readings of the poem above all the words have the same meaning except for the following three:
The English meaning of the Afrikaans words:
word = become, transform
loop = flow, walk
blink = shiny, sparkly
As we switch between two languages and read through the prism of each one’s cultural background that we basked in when exposed to it, when assimilating it, is our ideology changing as well?
Let’s imagine the poem as a painting we regard in a museum. The culture is the room in which the painting is hanging and the ideology is the way we take the painting in as we first see it.
Change its location, its language in this instance, and we see the painting in a different light.
Are the Afrikaans and English languages related?
Yes, they are both Indo-European languages. The Afrikaans language, also called Cape Dutch, is a West Germanic language developed from 17th-century Dutch by the descendants of European colonists (Dutch, German, and French), of indigenous Khoisan peoples, and of African and Asian slaves living in the Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope (today Cape Town, South Africa). Modern Afrikaans language, or informal Afrikaans, is the result of many other language influences, both foreign and indigenous, on the original Afrikaans dialect. The English language is a West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family and is closely related to Frisian, German, and Dutch (in Belgium called Flemish) languages.
Since 1994 Afrikaans is one of eleven official languages of South Africa.
When my latest novel, Silent Heroes – When Love and Values Are Worth Fighting for was released, it became a #1 New Release in Amazon US in History of Afghanistan for kindle category for a couple of months, a #2 Best Sellers in Arms Control as well as #4 Best Seller in Middle Eastern Literature – out of thousands of books. As an avid reader and writer, I asked myself, how is my writing different in my genre?
My interest in the War in Afghanistan was stirred by understanding what a major influence the use of military dogs has on the lives of civilians. Most books written on this subject are from a military or political perspective. A retelling of true facts. I wanted to create a work of fiction that will appeal as well as stir emotions, something plausible, yet appealing to a wider category of readers.
Silent Heroes in History in Afghanistan
As I browse History in Afghanistan Amazon category today I see books on true accounts of war, some containing in-depth interviews with prominent political figures, some analyze government accounts and provide new answers, some focusing on the past Afghan history. Most of them are written by war heroes, reporters, historians or veteran journalists.
How is my writing different in my genre
We tend to read a book from the perspective of our own experiences. Some books, after reading them, manage to change the way we see our own life – and this is what I tried to achieve with Silent Heroes.
Having lived through a Revolution and the fall of the Eastern Bloc, I believe that the power of historical knowledge is often overlooked. From my point of view, the situation in Afghanistan is still of global interest as the revealing of the Afghan Papers proved. There are other historical hot-spots throughout the world and as I write this blog post the Iran crisis and the threat of WWIII clouds the news headlines.
As a woman writer, I am aware of my communication style being different and unique, reflecting my own mindset. My writing reflects the smooth running of my thoughts, like a deep and quiet river.
“The thing that Patricia does remarkably well is taking you on a journey and heightening your senses to make you feel you are in the territory of Afghanistan frightened for your life and surviving the Taliban. The description that Patricia uses to set the scenes are absolutely beautiful and you can really visualise being there.” (Tom, Book reviewer)
“A well-researched, thought-provoking and ultimately insightful consideration of life in the military. I loved how the author captured a war-torn Afghanistan, how the fragility of human life was portrayed but especially how visual the book felt throughout.” (Amazon Review)
“Powerful, poetic language ensured I visualised each scene, heard ‘the sounds of war’… The minutiae of the episodes had me on the edge of my seat and the book possessed vivid filmic quality… This novel is an intense, evocative and heart-wrenching narrative of destruction and hope. There is a philosophical exploration of the fragility of human life and the consequences of power struggles.” (Lady Bracknell, Amazon Review)
Silent Heroes in Arms Control
Books in Amazon’s Arms Control category are often looking at global issues involving armament, or are thrillers.
How is my writing different in my genre
Including Silent Heroes in the Arms Control Amazon category was due to the nature of the story. Improvised Explosive Devices, IEDs, are the Taliban’s weapon of choice and still the most lethal explosive weapons in use today. IEDs are artisanal bombs, constructed and deployed in ways other than in conventional military action. IEDs killed more soldiers and are responsible for two-thirds of all the coalition deaths. Yet IEDs are proved to produce brain damage too, through repetitive brain trauma.
Enter Military Working Dogs, MWDs, some of my Silent Heroes, with their powerful sense of scent and IEDs are suddenly less of a threat.
Extensive research went into accurately incorporating the use of weapons in my book, be it Taliban-used Kalashnikovs, the AK-47, or a Beretta M9A1, to the feel and the effects of an IED explosion, the use of thermal imaging or the describing of an attack.
What I do differently in my book is taking the human factor into account. This is how my writing is different in my genre.
“Cell Bravo had found the door leading to the first underground tunnel, Kent feeling thankful for their night vision goggles. Weapons at the ready they approached the first flight of stairs. Kent knew that on rounding a corner of a hallway inches meant the difference between life and death. He tried the old mirror trick to check if the stairs were clear of Talibans but the tunnel was as dark as death, the mirror trick useless and he had to look for himself using his NVGs. Kent signalled Seb to cover him as he inched forward towards the gap opening onto the flight of stairs.
‘Clear,’ his hand waved as he headed down along the narrow staircase, weapon pointing forward, finger on the trigger, Seb right behind him, the remainder of Cell Bravo Marines following. They knew the corridor opening at their feet will lead both ways, double the danger. (…)
No further than six feet across and on their level stood a Taliban machine gunner. His eyes were two fire ambers on a chalked appearance, his impassive face framed by the familiar bushy beard. The muzzle of his machine gun stared at the two soldiers like a menacing third eye.
Luck is partially determined by your reaction in a specific situation.
The Marines reacted first. Sure, later they will carry on an entire controversial dialog as to which one was the first to have pressed his trigger. They both did, churning the Taliban, his machine gun flinching upwards by the force of its bullets. They tore a tunnel through the man’s body, showering stones and splinters all around. Their ears rang from the continuous blasting that had echoed back and forth in the tunnel.
What kind of thoughts race through a man’s mind when he shoots another human being at such close range?
Tweedledee later remembered thinking he was sure he will be dead before his magazine will be empty. Tweedledum thought of his parents and how he didn’t want them to lose their youngest son after their eldest died the year before, killed by an IED planted at the edge of a paved road in Afghanistan. He also thought how stupid he’d been to not pack enough dental floss.
Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
“Have you ever read a fiction novel but felt as if you were reading a true account of events instead? This was my experience while reading Patricia Furstenberg’s Silent Heroes… her storytelling is exquisite and engaging, but also it is quite obvious that an enormous amount of research went into this novel. Although it is fiction, Patricia Furstenberg has created a book that is frighteningly accurate as far as life in Afghanistan, war, and all of those it affects… Regardless of your usual preferred genre, this is an excellent read that is realistic, full of well-developed characters, and will stay in your heart and mind long after finishing.” (Jennifer, Book Reviewer)
“The tension Furstenberg creates is torture as you are on edge at every page turn never knowing if the path ahead is clear or deadly… Furstenberg’s writing is brutal and honest. There are some pretty grim scenes as you would imagine in a war story but Furstenberg has a way that catches the grittiness and unpleasantness of it all that makes you realise that we shouldn’t look away, this has to been seen and needs to be stopped.” (Emma, Book Reviewer)
“a very well researched book written in a page-turning, sentimental style.” (Sara, Amazon Review)
Silent Heroes in Middle Eastern Literature
Is Afghanistan included in the Middle East? Afghanistan is part of the Greater Middle East, or the Middle East and North Africa. But, besides Amazon having only one category here, there is another reason why I included my book in it:
“‘Commander,’ said al Vizer and Marcos did not try to correct him, ‘have you ever wondered why this land here, that history labelled as the Middle East and Afghanistan is greatly affected by, is the only area in this big world of ours that always seems to need America’s help to achieve freedom and democracy? Have you ever wondered why the people of the Middle East and Central Asia are the only societies that every Western country on the face of the earth wants to help keep safe from imprisonment and torture? Why does the West think we need to be saved? Why are we any different from you?
‘God, whichever way you want to call Him, made us all the same. The only difference I see between me and you is my place of birth. And that, Commander, is not such a big difference.’”
Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
How is my writing different in my genre?
I give a voice to all those involved in the war, soldiers and civilians. Men and women. Elderly and children. And I am impartial.
“The beauty of language is expertly navigated by Furstenberg. She weaves together the words in an almost poetic way despite the prose nature of the novel… She does this at multiple points and there were definitely passages I reread just for the pure beauty of the words… I would also like to talk about Furstenberg’s portrayal of the people of Afghanistan. It is so nice to see this exploration of a diverse culture that isn’t stereotypical and full of extreme inaccuracies and prejudices.” (Book Review by Jen, licensed in World History with an emphasis on the Modern Middle East)
“It is clear that the author did an amazing amount of research for this book. Over the last few years I have read many, many book written by our soldiers. All of these books were based on each soldier’s experiences. The author of “Silent Heroes” has captured the experiences of our military men and women.” (Strength, Amazon Review)
“I don’t know if the author served in the Middle East, but if she didn’t, her research is phenomenal. She provides vivid details about daily life during a deployment, as well as the complexities of carrying out a mission, dealing with the constant threat of IEDs (bombs), and working with the local population. Small details made the story come to life.” (D.W.Peach, Amazon Review)
“The author does a very good job in engaging us with the cast of this tragedy that has been playing out for hundreds of years.” (Sally Cronin, Author and Blogger)
Silent Heroes as a War & Military Action Fiction and Action Thriller Fiction
Reading at over 350 pages, people started Silent Heroes were soon completely sucked in. Written in an accessible and satisfying way, and based on scrupulous research, Silent Heroes offers a broad perspective on war.
The story is fast-paced, following three different threads: a group of Marines with their military working dogs, MWDs, an Afghan boy and a group of Taliban fighters. The action becomes a race against time, taking place over only a few days, and in fascinating locations.
“As many of you know I’m not one to get emotionally attached to books but this one definitely had my emotions all over the place. It didn’t quite have me in tears but was very close. Any book that can do that is worth a bonus heart in my rating.” (Mani, Book Reviewer)
“She (the author) has a great way of capturing their personalities and characteristics that engages the reader no matter what their age. Silent Heroes is another one of those books.” (Mandie Griffiths)
“I’m still emotional after reading Silent Heroes. Patricia Furstenberg’s writing is concise and beautiful… Patricia Furstenberg’s research is tight and it makes this read all the more special… a heartfelt novel.” (Jesica Belmont)
“A book about the dangers of doing the right thing, friendship in the most unexpected places, loyalty and betrayal, family, devotion, trauma. It speaks to the readers on so many levels, but the emotional response is the most overwhelming.” (Book Review by Crissu)
Not sure if Silent Heroes is the book for you?
“This is my first ever military, Taliban, Marines novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it. This book is well researched, well written and very easy to follow. This is the first book I have read by this author, Pat has a wonderful style of storytelling, her passion for the subject shines through in her writing.” (Sheila, Amazon Review)
“A well-researched and detailed novel that evokes so many emotions.” (Patricia Bunting, Amazon Review)
“I’ve read a few war stories over the course of this year but none of them have been as insightful as this one. Patricia Furstenberg is a truly masterful writer who knows exactly how far to go to keep her readers glued to the pages.” (Amazon Review)
Women writing war fiction is a controversial topic and one close to my heart. The question I was asked most often after publishing “Silent Heroes” was: why I wrote a book about war?
To me, “Silent Heroes” is a book that asked to be written. The idea behind it began to germinate in my mind long ago. It took over two years of research and assiduous work for this book to see the printing press.
Having lived through a Revolution and the fall of the Eastern Bloc, I can see that the power of historical knowledge and historical locations is often overlooked. From my point of view, the situation in Afghanistan is of global interest. There are many similar historical hot spots throughout the world. My interest in the War in Afghanistan was stirred on understanding what a major influence the use of military dogs has on the lives of civilians. Most books written on this subject are from a military or political perspective. A retelling of true facts. I wanted to create a work of fiction that will appeal as well as stir emotions, something plausible, yet appealing to a wider category of readers.
We tend to read a book from the perspective of our own experiences. Some books, after reading them, manage to change the way we see our own life – and this is what I tried to achieve with “Silent Heroes”. Find out more about the symbolism behind its pages here.
I would rather have you ask me “why I wrote ‘Silent Heroes’, rather than “why I wrote a book on war”.
Women writers wrote about war many times over. But how many are known?
War is a part of life. As in life, there is fear in war, but there is also resilience and a raw lucidity in it.
War draws in all kinds of people, men and women, children and elderly, rich and poor. War stamps its tattoo on their lives, no questions asked, by killing their loved ones, by forcing them to relocate, to give up the mere life necessities in order to survive. To give up life, as they knew it, in order to stay alive.
Most war literature I came across during my lifetime and while researching for “Silent Heroes” and for “Joyful Trouble” before it was written by men. True accounts of battle and hardship. “War and Peace” by Russian author Leo Tolstoy must be the best known war novel. I have enjoyed Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and loved, for its epic descriptions and sensitivity in portraying human beings and raw emotions, Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind” in which an entire generation was wiped out by the Civil War.
The question that inevitably rose was:
What is the major difference between a war story written by a woman and one written by a man?
And I don’t mean linguistic differences.
When reading a book written by a woman, I tend to feel closer to the author than when to a male author. I find their writing style more interactive. This aspect does not involve characters, but the overall feeling I get when reading -reading for pleasure.
Male authors tend to focus on conveying information, on the courage of the soldiers, on their super-human acts and vigor and less on the emotions that trigger or haunt them. On the intensity of their pain, the taste of their passion, the gut feeling.
From a sociology-cultural point of view we are a product of our upbringing and of the society we live in. Considering ideological factors and forces, we are a product of our interactions with and of our reactions to society. It is only normal that this will reflect in a writer’s work.
What about the communications style?
Will the fact that men and women have a different communication style reflect in their writing? Much like a piece of art or a music sheet reflect the author’s core structure.
On the other hand, writing is very much a products of our biographical reading. Which brings us back to our upbringing, influencing us in everything we do.
But since we only speak of the war theme here, I think that this difference shows in the type of relationships the characters tend to built with one another.
If you look at a novel as it would be a river, I tend to see a woman’s writing running smoothly, in a fluid movement, while a man’s is almost bubbling in it’s banks. But this is only my own imaginary.
War stories are a two way narrative.
War involves those who actively take part in it and those who are sucked in it, no choice given. Soldiers and civilians. And civilians, too, deserve to be heard. Their emotions should be given a voice, too.
But what if we don’t know if a book was written by a man or a woman? Would we still be able to spot the difference? And how will that knowledge influence our perception of the book?
Again, we only look at war books here.
We are past the women’s rise to prominence during the mid-nineteenth century and past the women’s rights movements.
Do women still need to prove themselves by writing about war?
War is a topic monopolized by men authors throughout the centuries.
Four years ago The Guardian published an interesting article, “Male writers continue to dominate literary criticism, Vida study finds“, VIDA being a group of volunteers interested in drawing attention to gender inequality in the field of book reviewing. The results of the study shows that men appeared 66 percent more often in The New York Times Book Review; three times more often in the London Review of Books; The Times Literary Supplement and others had worse numbers.
If reputable publications involved in book reviewing choose less books by women, will this influence the reader’s / buyer’s choice and view of books written by women?
My view on this subject may be biased as I am both a woman and a woman writer penning stories about war. Yet I feel that little is known about war stories written by women.
Amazing fiction books on war written by women
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (for the vivid image of how much the American Civil War changed people’s lives and characters)
Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (an entire generation changed by WW1)
The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam (for its hypnotic details of the Sri Lankan Civil War)
The Gold Lieutenant by Whitney Terrell (for depicting so truthfully the surviving nature of women during the Iraq War)
Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky (filled with the human sensitivity that often escapes WW2 written by an author who, sadly, died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz)
Nella Last’s war by Nella Last, an inside view of WW2 from a civilian’s point of view.
The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu (a touching tale of teenagers’ experiences in the Israeli Defense Forces)
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli (an amazing novel about the Vietnam War).
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (although an autobiography, is a must-read portrayal of the Holocaust)
Transcription by Kate Atkinson (a great spy novel of WW2)
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters (a great historical fiction set during WW2 London)
Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian (an amazing WW2 read for children over the age of 10, especially boys)
A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert (set during the WW2 occupation of Ukraine and Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2018)
Good Evening, Mrs Craven: Wartime Stories by Mollie Panter-Donnes (short stories written during WW2)
The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrecht (set during in an unnamed Balkan country experiencing a rebirth after the collapse of communism).
Can you Hear the Nightbird Call? by Anita Rau Badami how three women survive the rise of the Sikh separatists in India).
Sparta by Roxana Robinson (about a war veteran’s battle with PTSD after the Iraq War).
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (for the humanity shared by different cultures when held hostage by terrorists)
Silent Heroesby Patricia Furstenberg (on the strong connections between US Marines and the Afghan civilians during the Afghanistan War).